Berkeley, California

Greek Theatre

June 10, 2016

[Mitch Meyer], [Mark Chamberlain Stevens]

Review by Mitch Meyer

Bob Dylan was in excellent form the last two nights outdoors at the venerable
(1903) Greek amphitheater in Berkeley.  His voice was about the best I've 
heard from him in many years, especially the first night, and his phrasing was 
always masterful and captivating.  He was energetic and engaged in every 
song.  The moon hung above the band shell and the stars were out, so this 
was a pleasant break from the usual blanket of ocean fog and chill wind of 
typical Bay Area summer nights.

I went to the show well aware that since I last saw Dylan perform in the Fall 
of 2014, he has gone from one Sinatra song per show to now seven (out of 
20).  He performed each of these old crooner songs lovingly, and full of 
commitment, and the accompaniment from the band was just beautiful.  
Donnie's pedal steel and Charlie's tasteful guitar runs were sublime.  I totally 
respect and love the fact that Dylan is playing songs that he adores, and 
probably has wanted to play for years.  I recall an interview that he gave to 
European music writers in Rome in 2001, shortly before the release of a 
masterpiece album, "Love and Theft."  He was asked whether the forthcoming 
collection of new songs was mainly for him or for his audience.  He immediately 
responded that they are definitely for his audience, and that if he was putting 
out songs for himself, they would be cover versions of old songs that he grew 
up listening to.  So, the last couple of nights, I thought, here he is at age 75 
doing exactly what he wished at age 60 that he could be doing.  Heck, I'm 59, 
so that's sort of inspiring.  And I'm glad he's doing what he really wants to do.  
But still …

As I listened to each Sinatra song, and then the succeeding Dylan song, over 
two nights, it increasingly struck me that the conundrum here is that Dylan's 
own songs are so much greater than those he is singing from what we can call 
the "pre-Dylan" period.  We all know that Dylan blew apart the very notion of 
what a popular song could be, and showed that lyrics could encompass the full 
range of human experience … and he continues to write those kinds of 
path-breaking songs.  A glaring example of this contrast was the very first 
Sinatra song of the night, and the Dylan song that followed it.  "What'll I Do" 
is a lovely and moving song written by Irving Berlin in 1923, I learned on 
Wikipedia, and it was later performed by Sinatra and many others.  It achingly 
describes the feeling of wondering if a far away love is kissing someone else, 
and now only being able to see her in a photograph.  Beautiful emotion, but 
we have to admit that that is very well trod ground for a popular song.
Dylan followed that song with his recent "Pay in Blood," where we encounter 
in raw and shocking honesty, in a flood of seemingly disconnected but very 
connected images, the mind of a "wretched" man, wanting to stone someone 
to death, wanting vengeance but being sworn to "uphold the laws of God," 
raving at politicians, and lovers, and then there is the concluding verse:

You get your lover in the bed
Come here I'll break your lousy head
Our nation must be saved and freed
You've been accused of murder, how do you plead?
This is how I spend my days
I came to bury, not to praise
I'll drink my fill and sleep alone
I pay in blood, but not my own.

My goodness, this is epic stuff, and written at the level of, let's say it, genius.  
It's deeply subconscious writing, intuitive, and all connected on an abstract level
in just the way that a scattered, torn human mind thinks.  How do we go from 
wanting to break his lover's lousy head in one line to "Our nation must be saved 
and freed" in the next?  But it works, because this mix of thoughts is so 
believably lodged in the deep substructure of the mind of the wretched man 
that Dylan is portraying.

These were the kinds of thoughts I was having as Dylan performed and the 
moon and stars shone above.  And at this point it was only five songs into the 
set!  The dramatic contrast between the relative simplicity of these old songs 
and the complicated, unrestrained, truthful genius of many of Dylan's kept 
becoming starker as the show progressed.  

Dylan should keep doing whatever he wants in concert, but I have to say that I 
do hope that this Sinatra phase doesn't last too long.  He obviously takes great 
pleasure in performing songs that he heard at home as a child, and that his 
parents probably loved.  Maybe part of this phase of his career is to evoke the 
memory and feel of his parents, who knows?  But for someone who has been a 
fan since I was 13 in 1969, and has seen over 40 of his shows, I would prefer a 
night filled with epic, genius Dylan songs, all more deep and vast and profound 
than any of these Sinatra songs, no matter how wistful and evocative they may 

Dylan did also perform 13 of his own songs, and I sat there having a bit of an 
issue with the selection of those as well.  I'm pretty confident that I could come 
up with a list of at least 200 great Dylan songs without much trouble.  Of the 
ones he played last night, I would put maybe eight in that category (Things 
Have Changed, Pay in Blood, Tangled Up in Blue, High Water, Scarlet Town, 
Long and Wasted Years, Blowin' in the Wind, and Love Sick).   That's not bad, 
and I totally support Dylan playing whatever the heck he wants to, but from a 
long-time fan's viewpoint, this means that more than half of the show these 
days is either Sinatra songs of very limited scope plus several not-that-great Dylan 
songs.  This is a bit frustrating when in fact Dylan could have his choice of a vast 
array of his own phenomenal material to choose from.  The last thing I'd want is 
a "greatest hits" show, but, again, his own body of work provides a vast selection 
of top notch songs, and even his songs of the last 20 years provides enough 
great material to fill several entire concerts (Not Dark Yet, Ain't Talkin', Po' Boy, 
Tin Angel, etc., etc.).  I do appreciate that some of the less than great selections 
from the current set list fit very well in the old-timey mood of these shows, but I 
did feel that, especially given the seven Sinatra songs, I wanted the Dylan 
selections to be that much more great.

So, all in all, Dylan is in great shape.  And, as always, he's doing what he wants to 
do, which is wonderful.  But from a fan's perspective I look forward to the phasing 
down and out of the Sinatra Period and the restoration of great set lists like we 
typically enjoyed just a few years ago.  (See the boblinks set lists for the three 
Dallas House of Blues shows in February 21-23, 2008, for a mind-blowing example.)  
I offer all of these thoughts in the full expectation, and hope, that Bob will keep 
performing what inspires him the most.

That all being said, I must mention the ecstatic last few minutes of the first show.  
Dylan ended with one of his usual explosive, terrific versions of "Love Sick," but 
then, as the song was ending, the band segued into a few minutes of all out 
rock 'n roll jamming, with Stu stepping out of his usual rhythm role to play an 
absolutely torrid lead guitar.  It was totally surprising and wonderful.  The crowd 
went wild, with people clapping rhythmically and looks of wonder all around.  The 
band proved that they could transition in a moment into a ZZ Top-type group.  I 
learned later from the Set List here on boblinks that this was actually the 
instrumental portion of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," and I then learned that this 
song soon became that group's memorial for my favorite guitar player, Duane 
Allman, and then for the Allman Brothers' virtuoso bass player, Berry Oakley, as 
well.  So those few ecstatic moments, added on to the end of the thrilling "Love 
Sick," have now taken on added meaning.  Great ending to, let's say, a very 
varied evening.


Review by Mark Chamberlain Stevens

Show #22 a.k.a. “What, No Freebird?!” .….No shenanigans from Charlie
and the band at show’s end tonight. This show edged out Thursday due to
a MUCH better version of “Autumn Leaves”: Bob’s voice solid, with
none of the broken hoarseness of the night before. Charlie is playing some
lovely chordal jazz on the "Sinatra standards" these days. Very smooth and
expressive. Stu is also being given more room to stretch out and
solo-especially tonight on “Love Sick”. As an aside, the 8-10 people
directly next to me (in the expensive lower section of the bowl) clearly
hadn’t a clue that the quieter ballads were NOT the time to have loud
conversations. It would almost have to be an entitlement issue, as the
folks last night up on the lawn (i.e. the “cheap seats”) were light
years quieter and more respectful. Tonight, it was very much the
“let’s get drunk and play with our smartphones” crowd….this is
what we get for not teaching music appreciation in schools


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